It’s time for the US to strike a deal with Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week. The meeting followed a manifestation of Erdogan’s defiance of the United States, when he said he had worked well with George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, but that relations with Joe Biden did not ‘had “not started well”.
However, despite what appeared to be a rapprochement with Moscow, it was far from being one, as the rift between Russia and Turkey is far too wide to be bridged. Despite Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric, Turkey is now more ready than ever to make a big deal with the United States.
The United States and Turkey have been in a transactional relationship for some time. The nature of this relationship has caused turmoil, causing each side to blackmail the other in order to secure better terms, leading to increased instability in the region. Ankara’s objectives are aligned with those of the United States in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Nonetheless, many factors have led to the sour relationship.
The starting point was American support for the Kurdish YPG group in Syria. While Turkey sees no difference between the YPG and the banned PKK, which has been carrying out terrorist operations on the Turkish mainland for three decades, Washington sees no alternative to the Kurds in the fight against Daesh. The growing prowess of the Kurds in the northeast of the country, and their demand for Syria to become a federation, is seen as a threat to Turkey. After taking Deraa, Bashar Assad is now stepping up attacks on Idlib. The last thing Erdogan needs as he enters election season is a blunder in Syria.
This is where the Putin-Erdogan meeting failed. Erdogan wanted to remind Putin of the ceasefire agreement. On the other hand, while there were talks about Ankara’s purchase of a second batch of the S-400 missile defense system, neither leader confirmed that the deal went from the before. Erdogan said Turkey’s initial purchase of the S-400 only happened because the United States refused to sell its Patriot system. As much as the United States and NATO see the S-400 as an offensive, the Turks see it as a necessary measure as, from the Turkish point of view, the allies did not provide the necessary protection at the time it was. necessary ; they mention that the United States and Western countries withdrew their Patriot batteries from Turkey in 2015 when it was harassed by Russian planes.
There were also many other factors, before the S-400 controversy, that led to the sour Turkish-American relations. One of them was the failed coup of 2016 and the fact that the accused leader, Fethullah Gulen, still lives in the United States. Another point of contention with the Biden administration is the president’s recent recognition of the Armenian genocide. Although Erdogan acknowledged in 2018 the “historical pains” of Armenians, Turkey did not recognize the events of 1915 as genocide. It goes beyond Erdogan or any other political leadership – it’s just not accepted at the popular level. And there is, of course, the never-ending question of Cyprus. Despite all these points of contention, both Turkey and the United States compete with Russia in the region and their overall goals are aligned.
Despite all their points of contention, both Turkey and the United States compete with Russia in the region and their overall goals are aligned.
Dr Dania Koleilat Khatib
As much as the United States sees Turkey moving away from its commitment to the Western fold, the time has come to offer Ankara a good deal to ensure the partnership is strategic and long-term. While Turkey cannot dominate the region on its own, if it were to side with Russia, you can bet Moscow would be dominant – this is one dimension of how important Ankara is to the United States. . As America pulls out of the Middle East, it should be working with its allies, which means its partnerships with Saudi Arabia and Turkey are of great importance. Unless the United States puts firm deals in place, its gradual withdrawal will lead to utter chaos.
It is also the right time because Turkey fears the prospect of an agreement between Assad and the YPG. Moscow has been working on such a deal for some time, and the Syrian president has felt empowered since Daraa was taken. Although an agreement between the Kurds and Damascus has not been finalized, progress has been made. If a deal were to be struck, the next front for Assad would be Idlib. And such a deal would give Assad tens of thousands of well-trained and equipped fighters in the United States. Assad would like to crush Idlib, the last bastion of the opposition.
Opposition to Idlib is irreconcilable with Assad. If Damascus were to conquer Idlib, it would bring 3 million more refugees. Where could these refugees go? If Idlib falls, it would be the political end of Erdogan. He is already in a precarious situation. Inflation, although it has boosted exports, has hit hard people who live paycheck to paycheck. More than ever, Erdogan and Turkey need American support.
Now is the right time to strike a deal that will provide Turkey with the necessary support and protection, while Turkey is firmly committed to returning to the Western fold. The wishful thinking of some American policymakers, who are banking on Erdogan’s loss of power in the 2023 election, does not make sense. According to them, it is better to ignore Turkey for the moment and wait for a change of direction. But his potential loss does not guarantee that his replacement would be better for the United States or the West.
The main promise of the Turkish opposition to voters is to drive out the refugees. What would the world do with the 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey? And, for the opposition, the issue of refugees is more identity than economic, which means that it could be difficult for Europe to keep them in place in exchange for a few billion more euros. To add to this, the CHP, the main opposition party, is courting Damascus. This may mean sending the refugees back to Assad, who could use them as a negotiating chip to blackmail the West and get what it wants without compromising or changing its behavior.
Although Syria appears to be the most complicated point of contention, it should be at the heart of a deal between the United States and Turkey. While the Kurds must be protected, the United States must ensure a balance in the Arab and Kurdish composition of the SDF at the level of troops and leaders, and also ensure that leaders associated with the PKK are sidelined while that those which are acceptable to Turkey and to the Arab population of the northeast are put in place. The United States should also launch a Turkish Kurdish dialogue and ensure that Turkey coordinates with American Arab partners.
Ignoring Turkey will simply cause Erdogan to act frantically and lead to more instability, which must be avoided at all costs. It’s time for the Biden administration to take a pragmatic approach to the region and look beyond the rhetoric: a deal with Turkey is needed and can be worked out now.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peacebuilding, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate researcher at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors of this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News